Posted in Fayetteville, Lately, Mama, Writer

Southern Cooking: We’re Not Just Butter

I watch food network a lot, and they are obsessed with butter. They think that’s a sign of ultimate richness, and each chef talks about it at some point.

What kind of confuses me, though, is that they reference it most often when they’re doing traditional Southern recipes. But, that doesn’t sound right. The south is a mixed-up place full of flavors. It’s never just been the place of butter.

We love butter.

Really.

BFFs.

See above for the picture of my grinning daughter holding up a stick like she just won a prize.  

However, the Southern variety of flavorful fat in cooking is a beautiful thing.

If you make your mac and cheese with 2% milk or your grits with half ‘n half, you just made the “light” version.

Any and all pan drippings from a variety of meat can, and will, be made into gravy. That gravy goes on shortening biscuits or mashed potatoes made with butter, cream, milk, sour cream and cream cheese.

The recipes vary, but the richness does not.

How do the Southern ladies make beautiful sugar cookies covered in soft, fluffy icing that can be neatly tumbled into a cookie jar?

Crisco.

Shortening icing is soft, and it crisps up enough to hold its shape. Keep your buttercream for cakes and your royal icing for gingerbread houses. Shortening frosting for sugar cookie decorating is the best.

Shortening is also the shining, delicious reason why the calorie count in a single fluffy biscuit or a slice of perfect pie crust is higher than a plate of fried chicken.

Vegetables and beans taste amazing with bacon fat. If we slow cook or pressure cook, a couple of pieces of pork floating amongst the veggies is the only way to go.

Collard greens use whole smoked turkey legs, necks, or even fatback. You won’t see many “smoked turkey breast” recipes for collard greens.

If something comes “loaded” in Southern cooking, that typically means its sporting butter, sour cream, cheese, and pieces of bacon.

I don’t know why everything isn’t loaded.

Southern fried chicken is a special, beloved classic. We like to argue about the best fat for frying (it’s probably lard- we cut back and use peanut oil pretty often), but the real secret is soaking the chicken in rich buttermilk before we dredge and fry.

The south has problems aplenty, but there’s a reason why, for many people, the bulk of our cuisine is “comfort food.”

I don’t know if we could have gotten even as far as we have on just butter. We were never just butter.

Acknowledge the bacon grease.

Nod towards the gravy.

Salute with a perfectly-iced cookie.

And vote to establish more parks and sidewalks, ‘cause we have to walk this richness off.

Seriously, call your representatives.

Posted in Fayetteville, Lately, Mama, Professor, Writer

A Girl, a Guy, and an Immigration Officer

citizen

This post is about my beloved’s experience with immigration.

I know that the current political environment is causing people to tell their immigration stories. I get that, but for years, my husband and I told his immigration story as a fun party anecdote. It has everything- romance, drama, tension, comedy, happy tears. It’s a show-stopper.

First, the fun part.

My husband came to this country with a 6-month sight-seeing visa. He had just decided to start his life over. He’d left his job, his home, his family, and come to America to visit with his sister and figure out what his next steps would be.

While he was here, he made a friend who offered to sponsor him for a work visa. Husband was all like, “Why not?”

And a year or so goes by.

Husband is then about ready to go back to Korea.

His friend once again tempts him into staying (I am endlessly grateful to this friend, btw), and talks Husband into applying for a student visa, so he can study English before heading back home to Korea.

Since Husband’s major in college had been Business English, he decided to try for the visa. His expectations weren’t very high, since student visas can be difficult to get, and Husband wasn’t exactly a traditional student’s age.

He got the visa! And in record time, too.

Husband signed up for a university ELL (formerly ESL) program. It was harder than he expected. A professor came to their classroom and encouraged all of the students to come to the Writing Center if they needed extra assistance.

That professor was my boss at the time.

Husband came to the writing center, we got set up with regular weekly appointments, and we bonded over his quest to learn English (or so I thought. Since then, he’s confessed that he thought I was cute. Being distracted, he didn’t learn a darn thing).

I liked him, even though I had no idea what to do with that emotion. I thought he’d asked me out at one point during the school year. He’d brought me a gift, and I sort of freaked out. He then changed his wording, and we continued our appointments without incident.

At our very last appointment, when we were saying goodbye, he actually asked me out. Well, he asked me if I wanted coffee, and I said yes.

A lie I have yet to live down after 7 years of marriage.

I don’t like coffee. I never wanted coffee.

I liked Husband.

Still do.

There was “coffee” (hot chocolate).

A “let’s just be friends” speech.

Sadness about the “let’s just be friends” speech (my dad drove an hour to bring me double stuffed oreos).

A rescinding of the “let’s just be friends speech.”

Dating.

Engagement (brief one).

Wedding.

Green card?

I remember looking over the government documents, trying to understand the legalese enough so that I could explain it to Husband.

But I hyperventilated before I could manage it.

I did my weird, look-perfectly-calm-but-succumb-to-an-internal-panic-attack-until-I-see-stars thing.

Husband took away my laptop.

He contacted a friend of a friend who was an immigration lawyer, fluent in Korean.

Thank you, Jesus.

Why was I so scared? Well, there was a list. People were posting that the green card process was no big deal as long as you didn’t fit into strange categories, like, oh, I don’t know-

  • Having a large age gap
  • A very brief engagement
  • Difficulty communicating (we were still working on the English)

So, we did everything so, so right, knowing we were going to have to fight to prove our relationship was the real deal. The application said to send at least three pictures documenting our relationship. We had to buy an especially reinforced envelope to include all of the pictures we sent.

We practiced the relationship questions until we could have won a couples game show. We got ready for our interview with the immigration officers while drilling each other on favorite foods. We carefully took one last look around the apartment, so that, if we were questioned about our intimate spaces, we could prove we lived together.

Immigration time. This was before we had a GPS, so after a lot of tense yelling that it wasn’t me, but the MapQuest directions, that got us lost, we’d arrived.

Yellow waiting room. Hard metal folding chairs. A lot of tense-looking families speaking different languages.

Our turn.

Husband and I met with a woman who tried to set us at ease (easier said than done) and the interview got started.

We were completely blindsided.

After a friendly two-minute chat with me about how my family accepted Husband, the woman turned her attention to Husband. From that point onward, I might as well have left the room.

“Have you ever willingly visited a communist country, and if so, which ones?”

“Uh…”

“What is your experience with weapons of mass destruction? Have you ever assembled or disassembled a bomb?”

“Uh…”

“Have you ever infiltrated another country, be you at peace or war?”

“Uh…”

So, it turns out, Husband did his military service in Korea years ago. He had also gone the extra mile and spent at least a year in their version of the Special Forces Marines. That unit had some rather specific duties and training that, apparently, included some knowledge of bombs and regularly infiltrating North Korea for training purposes.

Screw our age gap. They’d red-flagged Husband as a potential terrorist threat.

Husband’s neck had beads of sweat dripping down to his shirt collar. I sat by helplessly.

Since I was familiar with Husband’s English level, I saw his confusion and once tried to step in to help explain one of the woman’s questions. I was told to let him answer, and had to watch him flounder.

The interview was extra tricky. They had Husband’s information. They knew he had been part of a unit that made weapons and was trained to broach a sealed country. If Husband didn’t admit to these things, he would be very much in the wrong. But, under these circumstances, admitting to these things made him look like a threat anyway.

He did his best. I tried not to bite my lips off.

Somehow, we passed.

Green card approved.

It was all so surprising for us, once it was done. Get grilled. Get out. Green card.

I don’t remember what happened next. I think we might have passed out in the car in the parking lot for a while. I remember that I kept saying, “I’m shaking,” and Husband kept saying, “Oh god, I’m sweating.”

Eventually we scraped ourselves off the floor and started calling everyone with the good news and our surprising, sweaty, funny story.

The next part, the citizenship test and interview, is another story, but suffice it to say, we weren’t so worried then. We had even more pictures in the envelope that time, of two beautiful babies who look a little like both of us.

Posted in Fayetteville, Lately

Some Fayetteville Day Trips

We moved to Fayetteville last year because we fell in love with a job offer. I am still in love with the job.

I work pretty hard to stay in “like” with Fayetteville.

It’s a tougher city than I am used to. My dad summed it up pretty well. He said, “It’s not really like the South, is it?” For my dad, “the South” means manners and country good nature.

And he’s right. Fayetteville only seems like “the South” here and there. It is a hodgepodge city that a lot of the population considers a temporary residence. When you are just passing through, you don’t invest too much in a place.

It also has record breaking poverty and crime levels. The homeless population is through the charts, and, according to my research, there aren’t enough resources in the city to help.

Recap:

A lot of people in Fayetteville need help.

A lot of people in Fayetteville are “just passing through” and have no intention of bettering the place.

Vicious cycle.

I am lucky to work for a community-minded university that has opportunities for outreach, and even service learning elements in our classes. I believe every little bit helps.

Okay. Long intro. What I wanted to make clear: I am not giving up on Fayetteville. With that said,

The best part about living in Fayetteville is the day trip distance.

My kids are old enough to handle day trips! Hooray! Those of you who suffered through the whole, feeding, napping, diaper-refreshing, mandatory cuddle time cycles of babies know what a big milestone that is!

We can drive for two hours without much complaint, and Fayetteville has amazing destinations around the 2-hour mark.

We have become regular visitors to Wilmington, NC. We love Kure Beach and have started to explore the many parks. We bought a family membership to the aquarium for less than $100.

Our aquarium membership also gets us into the NC Zoo (again less than 2 hours from Fayetteville) for FREE! There is a long list of participating zoos and aquariums that are either free or deeply discounted with the aquarium membership. The super-snazzy (translate: expensive) aquarium in Atlanta is 50% off with our membership. That wouldn’t be a day trip, but it’s still a valuable discount.

We are also only one hour away from Raleigh. I am slowly learning the ins and outs of Raleigh. I went to Chapel Hill for my undergrad years, but never really got acquainted with the neighboring city.  What we have found so far are free museums and a few wonderful parks.

The Art Museum, History Museum, and the Museum of Natural Sciences are free. You might just have to pay for parking, if it is a busy day.

Pullen Park is one of the main reasons my family goes to Raleigh. The park is right beside NC State, and features an impressively long miniature train ride, a beautiful old-time carousel, and paddle boat rides on their lovely little pond. Tickets to ride these things are not very expensive (only $1 for a train or carousel ride). Bring a picnic or eat at their super trendy (translate: local, organic, expensive) café. There are tons of playground features, including a sand and water play area. The walking trail around the lake is beautiful and borders NC State.

We also enjoy visiting Chapel Hill (again less than 2 hours’ distance). It’s my alma mater, and I like visiting memorable places and walking the beautiful campus with my family. Soon, I expect we will be ready to start attending some sporting events.

Fayetteville will grow on me. So far, I can at least credit it for having a wonderful location for exploring. Pick a direction and something awesome will be less than 2 hours that-a-way.

 

Posted in Fayetteville, Lately

Su’s Subs- A Fayetteville Surprise

Yelp Credit- Su's Subs

(Above photo credit goes to the YELP site).

This one was a surprise. Husband and I have been driving past the sign for a while. We talked about maybe, possibly, some day trying Su’s Subs.

We talk about trying new restaurants with kids in tow the same way NASA talks about visiting Saturn.

Then, we noticed the sign’s subheading in tiny font- “and Oriental Food.”

Now, that sounds interesting! We were determined to try this place… at some point.

6 months later.

I was eating lunch in a conference room on campus. My hall neighbor (henceforth known as Psychology Prof), pulled up a chair and opened a Su’s Subs bag that smelled A-MAZING.

He pulled out a bulgogi sandwich and a carton of piping hot french fries.

I felt my eyes go wide. The world spun a little.

“It’s a Korean place?” I rudely demanded as Psychology Prof was about to take a bite.

He paused long enough to answer, “The owner is Korean. They have a variety of food, though.”

Then I was left to eat my unsatisfying bagel while Psychology Prof polished off a bulgogi sub- with french fries! Have you ever heard of a more heavenly combination?

That evening, as soon as I got home from work, I opened my laptop and called Husband over.

Husband is Korean and the news that there was a Korean fusion restaurant down the street made him reconsider our dinner plans.

Who can eat frozen pizza when there’s yaki mandu down the street?!

I googled Su’s Subs and Oriental Food and got- well, not a lot.

Thank goodness the place is beloved enough that some helpful fan had taken a picture of the menu with his/her phone. The image showed up on Google. There was no official website, and I got the restaurant phone number off the menu photo.

And what an interesting menu! My picky kids could have regular, comfortable sub sandwiches, while Husband and I would be free to enjoy some Korean fusion.

Husband and I really wanted to just eat the appetizers, so we got a large order of yaki mandu and decided to share an entrée. We ordered the stir-fried vegetables with chicken.

I called. A friendly woman with a thick accent took my order, and Husband sped down the road.

He reported back with steaming food 15 minutes later.

According to Husband, the interior isn’t very bright. He said that he wouldn’t want to eat inside, but it was a very efficient fast food pickup.

The woman behind the counter seemed happy to see Husband.

He said something like, “I am picking up an order,” and she immediately asked him, “Are you a soldier?”

(We live in Fayetteville, NC. This is equivalent to politely asking someone “how are you?”)

Husband said no, and she continued, “Are you Korean?”

(Husband has quite an accent. I’m sure she already knew the answer!)

Husband said “yes,” but she wasn’t done yet.

“What’s your job?”

Husband answered something about being a full-time daddy before his food was ready and he left.

I thought that was hilarious.

While looking for this restaurant’s website, I noticed some reviews posted on Google. A few of them said something like, “Awesome food! The woman at the cash register was rude, though.”

I don’t know the particular circumstances of any of these reviews, but I do know there’s a cultural difference at work, here.

When Husband and I were dating, we went to his Korean church. Within 10 minutes of being introduced at a table of church fellows, I had been asked my age, occupation, if Not-Yet-Husband and I were interested in having kids, what kind of face wash I used because this woman recommended another one that would solve my skin troubles, and whether or not I was available to tutor someone’s high schooler for the SAT.

Not rude. After a few weeks of church visits, I learned that there’s a different cultural idea of “community.”

So, let’s cut to the chase. I can amend what the reviewers were saying online. The food was lovely- and there was very good, culturally-distinctive service! Steaming hot food, fast service, and friendly chit chat.

For us, the yaki mandu was pretty normal, but the dipping sauce was the GOOD stuff. The stir-fried vegetables were perfect, though we wanted a stronger taste. We would update our order next time.

Husband brought a menu home. Now, I am scheming to get him to go for a sub run.

That bulgogi sandwich is calling to me.

I scanned a copy of the menu, if anybody is interested in trying this place for themselves. The PDF is below.

Su’s Subs Menu

Posted in Fayetteville, Lately

Moving to Fayetteville in a Hurry!

A guide for anyone who has to move to Fayetteville at the last minute. The links are my advice only and I was paid zip-zero-nada to post them.

I’m here for you- and in the exact same boat. Must move now!

We moved into a lovely house last year, when I got a teaching position in Fayetteville. The landlords were cool, and the house was AWESOME. It was down the street from an elementary school that got rave reviews. We had struck gold!

Then, our landlords decided they wanted to sell the house. We are not ready to be buyers, and so… out we go. This has been my screen for the last few days.

2016-05-12

That’s where I am now.

After the initial surprise had sunk in (we had only lived here for less than a year when they gave us 40 days’ worth of notice), we resigned ourselves to the situation and started looking for a new place.

I realize, now, that we really HAD struck gold last year. If you want to rent a house in Fayetteville, you are in for some hard work!

Since this is such a renter’s city, with the military population moving in and moving out with frequency, you’d think renting would be easy. Actually, it makes it harder.

The real estate companies and landlords are absolutely assured of rental traffic. You know those dedicated realtors who will bend over backwards to make the customer happy and strike a deal?

They don’t exist in Fayetteville!

I am calling agents and calling agents to try and set up a time to view houses. So many are saying “I will have to call you back” and never do.

Dedication is key, here.

So, after trying, flailing, and (hopefully) learning, I have some advice.

There are a number of steps to look out for:

1.) Many rental offices will not schedule times for a viewing.

The secretary who answers the phone simply says to come down with your ID and a $20 deposit, and you can sign out a key. You will arrive fresh from the ATM, a crisp $20 in hand, only to be told “Oh, honey, I rented that house out a week ago,” OR, “That house won’t be available to be viewed for three more weeks.” Always check that the house is still on the market before you traipse anywhere, no matter what the “just go to the office” secretaries say. Don’t get off the phone until you know you still have a chance for that particular property!

2.) Most of the official companies I have talked to will not “hold” a house for more than 10 days.

You found, applied, and are trying to put a deposit down for your dream house on May 15,th but want your contract to start on June 1st? Ain’t happening. You will be roped into paying prorated rent starting May 25th. I am coming from Charlotte, where renting is not as assumed, and the 10-day rule never came up there. It is practically a religion with the leasing companies here in Fayetteville.

3.) Crime. Something for those who are new to the area: If you google Fayetteville, you will probably get a ratemycity type of summary that talks about the crime rate.

I know that crime rate is sadly connected to the poverty level and, yep, this city has a high one. The city is also stratified, however, and there are plenty of “good” parts and plenty of “I can’t believe I see 7 year olds walking to school by themselves” parts. Research your neighborhoods! The Fayetteville PD uses http://crimemapping.bethebadge.com/ on their website to show what crimes are on the map. Do you want to live in the neighborhood that had 20 robberies in a two-mile radius?

Big nope.

I also search the sex offender registry. They look just like everybody else, y’all. Here’s a link: http://sexoffender.ncsbi.gov/search.aspx

4.) Schools. Once you think you have a nice house, in a reasonable neighborhood, another big hurdle pops up: school districts.

We really did have it made in the shade with the last house. We found it quickly, saw that the assigned school had a good reputation, and snatched it up.

This time, every house we find that seems reasonable to nice is down the street from the school from hell. When you see the ratings for these schools, you may want to march down there and rescue the poor babies who are attending them.

We are trying and trying to find a reasonable house next to a reasonable school. Some search engines, like Zillow.com, offer a school district map. You can select a good school and it will show you what houses are for rent in that area. The Fayetteville tricky part is that the good school zones don’t have a lot of available options, and the not-so-good school zones have multiple gorgeous manors- on sale.

Home school? Is home school an option?

So, let me summarize:

Fayetteville schools are hit or miss. Watch where you are searching for a home.

Second, check your neighborhoods out. At least do a crime zone check, to give you a general idea of the area’s history.

Third, nag real estate agents on the phone to answer as many questions as possible. They are not easy to get ahold of.

And, finally, once you have found “the one” make sure you are ready to be under contract for it, and start paying the regular rent, in ten days or less.

*Oh, and don’t forget about militarybyowner.com! They have rental listings that you won’t find on the general search engines, like Zillow or Trulia. You just need to make a free account to use it, and you don’t have to be military.

The search continues! Good luck with your move!